Hackaday Links: June 9, 2024

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We’ve been harping a lot lately about the effort by carmakers to kill off AM radio, ostensibly because making EVs that don’t emit enough electromagnetic interference to swamp broadcast signals is a practical impossibility. In the US, push-back from lawmakers — no doubt spurred by radio industry lobbyists — has put the brakes on the move a bit, on the understandable grounds that an entire emergency communication system largely centered around AM radio has been in place for the last seven decades or so. Not so in Japan, though, as thirteen of the nation’s 47 broadcasters have voluntarily shut down their AM transmitters in what’s billed as an “impact study” by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The request for the study actually came from the broadcasters, with one being quoted in a hearing on the matter as “hop[ing] that AM broadcasting will be promptly discontinued.” So the writing is apparently on the wall for AM radio in Japan.

There was another close call this week with our increasingly active sun, which tried but didn’t quite launch a massive stream of plasma out into space. The M-class flare was captured in the act by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps an eye on what’s going on with our star. The video of the outburst is fascinating; it almost looks like a CGI render, but it’s real imaging and pretty spectacular. The active region on the sun’s surface suddenly belches out a few gigatons of plasma, which quickly get sucked right back down to the surface. You can actually see the material following ethereal lines of magnetic force, and the way it splashes when it hits the surface is just beautiful. Seeing this puts us in the mood for a feature on the SDO and how it gets these fascinating images, so stay tuned for that.

Also in space news, we’re saddened by the sudden loss of yet another of the Apollo astronauts. Bill Anders, lunar module pilot on Apollo 8, died Friday in a small plane crash off San Juan Island in Washington. Anders, 90, was piloting the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor, a single-engine military trainer aircraft from the 1950s. Anders’ only trip in space was Apollo 8, but what a trip it was. Along with Commander Frank Borman and pilot James Lovell, they were the first humans to leave Earth’s gravity well and visit another world, riding the mighty Saturn V rocket all the way to the Moon for a ten-orbit visit that paved the way for the landing on Apollo 11. He is also officially the luckiest photographer in history, having been in just the right place at just the right time to snap the famous “Earthrise” picture that gave us for the first time a Moon’s-eye-view of our fragile little world:



Godspeed, Major General Anders.

In more mundane news, a story from Maryland that should give anyone who depends on tools for a living a moment’s pause. Police cracked a massive tool-theft ring thanks to the actions of a carpenter who, sick of having his tools ripped off repeatedly, stashed a couple of AirTags among his stock in trade. When the inevitable occurred and his tools took a walk yet again, he tracked them to a storage facility and alerted police. They in turn conducted an investigation and got search warrants for twelve locations, where the scale of this criminal enterprise became apparent. Check out the photos in the story; mountains of cordless tools sorted by brand, DeWalt yellow here and Milwaukee red there. There’s a surprising amount of puke-green Ryobi, too; are people really trying to make money with those tools? Between the piles of cordless tools and the rows of air compressors, the total value of the haul is estimated to be from $3 to $5 million. Hats off to the carpenter for running his own mini-sting operation.

And finally, from the Genuinely Interesting Apps files we have ShadeMap, which does exactly what you think it does: plot shade and shadow on a map. It has controls for time and date, and zooms down to a pretty fine level of detail, even for the free version. Shadows from buildings, terrain, and trees are calculated and displayed, making it perfect for surveys of locations for solar power installations. There’s also supposed to be a way to virtually remove shadow-casting features, although we couldn’t find it; perhaps in a paid version? That would be a handy tool indeed to see which trees need to be cut down or which buildings demolished to improve your solar aspect. YMMV on that last one, of course.

32 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: June 9, 2024

  1. The “Earthrise” picture, I think the most amazing part of that photo is that it was taken in lunar orbit.

    The Moon is tidally locked with the Earth, so one side of the Moon always faces toward Earth. There is never an Earthrise on the surface of the moon.

  2. thing about am that always bugged me is that am is really hard to listen to in this day and age anyway. em is noisy and the sound quality is horrendus for all the em interference (i cant understand what they say on the ebs). isnt it time we upgraded our emergency system to at least use fm if not something better? i dont even think i have a single am radio in the house. so the “everyone has one” excuse doesn’t hold water for me.

    i think the general idea with am was how easy it was to build a receiver out of commonly available components, however in a post radio shack era, this is difficult. modern electronics components do not quite lend themselves to easy assembly. on the other hand implementing most types of radio is a single module affair now and they aren’t even expensive.

      1. AM TX towers are usually are in the middle of nowhere on very large plots of land. Could be the location (between major centers of population), land(between major centers of population – idea for a distribution center), could be some angle/loophole to do with the license that can be (ab)used.

        1. it’s very difficult to get a new am license i understand. it could be that he bought the stations to scrap them, and drive the listeners somewhere else.
          I heard about an engineering firm that did that as a matter of policy, they would buy any used industrial lathes in their locality and scrap them to avoid businesses starting up to compete with them.

        1. Y’know it’s kind of weird that the guy is the primary funding source for like almost all US campaigns for DAs and judges and stuff, that’s pretty easily verifiable. No tinfoil required. Seems like that kind of blatant foreign election meddling might bother you guys, but no it’s always a reach for some smug thought-terminating cliche.

          My DA definitely had his entire campaigned bankrolled by him, I looked up the records when they started blasting me with flyers and annoying solicitors. I don’t suppose you know who your DA is

          1. Foreign? He’s a US citizen.
            And every billionaire and many millionaires mess with politics.
            Often it’s not reported on many of them, regardless how extreme they get in getting involved.
            Don’t let the focus on one of them cloud your overview.

    1. It’s noisy because of millions of crummy switching power supplies emitting tons of noise, violating the same FCC standards the EV makers claim they can’t meet (though the AM radio in my Leaf works fine). Also a lot of AMs run minuscule power and just exist to allow owners to use FM translator frequencies.

      A 50KW AM station is a marvelous piece of infrastructure. 3 of them could cover the entire continental US at night, which would come in quite handy during a large scale grid outage due to cybercrime, weather, or nuclear war. The transmitters can run off generators and the receivers can run on household batteries.

      No cell network Is this resilient. It would take hundreds of FM transmitters to cover the same population. satellite radio is not accessible enough.

      FM might work for Japan, but we’re far larger.

      1. you got a more efficient means of dc-dc conversion? thats part of the reason modern portable devices sip power and you cant use ac with small battery systems (i think some evs use an inverter instead, but that can also be a noise source). power is not really a problem for most radio receivers.

        the nuclear war argument is a little weak too. a small number of powerful transmitter vs a large number of weak transmitters. i can tell you which arrangement will be more useful in a nuclear war, which will be targeting infrastructure, including radio. you only have so many warheads in your arsenal so when prioritizing targets, big centralized installations are higher up on the list. or two birds with one stone situations, eg a transmitter near a military base or industrial center.

        there is still a need for an alert system though. you could do something am-adjacent. like digital am, which can send text based alerts, stick that with a voice synth chip (the ebs sounds like they are using a voice synthesizer module from a ti99 anyway) or post a message to a screen on your infotainment system. turn that into a single chip solution, make it really cheap, and mandate the installation of that chip in anything with a screen or a speaker. that solves the problem of people who use neither radio nor watch tv, which is an increasing population, and dont get the normal emergency messages. you can keep the transmission infrastructure in place with very little modification.

        1. It doesn’t matter if digital or analog – even digital signals will be severely hampered in their range, if you allow manufacturers to be lazy and transmit noise on medium and longwave frequencies. We must never allow manufacturers to just transmit noise on random frequencies, even if they’re not used that much. Because once you lose it, you can never get it back. Who knows when it’ll be convenient again to have a radio frequency band that allows you to cover an entire country with one or a handful of transmitters (depending on country size).
          Hell, interference even happens on VHF. Our Tetra/c2000 system (digital mobile communications for the emergency services) gets interfered with by certain brands of solar inverter, and a major refit campaign for certain central heating boilers was done about a decade ago for the same reason.

    2. The benefit of AM medium wave broadcast, is that one single tower can cover a circle with a radius of a couple hundred kilometers.
      FM would be dependent on many hundreds, if not thousands of stations to cover the entire USA, especially in more mountainous regions.
      AM can sound completely fine and have a close to hifi frequency range, but if you load up the atmosphere with interference it’ll be barely listenable.
      Either way, the Toyota hybrid of my parents has an AM radio and literally no interference from all the electronics at all. It’s completely doable to avoid interference in electric vehicles. Let’s not forget that it’s not just broadcast radio using medium and low radio frequencies.

    3. AM has range.

      In peace time that means fewer stations can cover the whole country (like somewhere between 1 and 3 vs hundreds for FM). But more to the point.. if the bombs were dropped then the remaining stations would still cover everywhere while any FM stations covering an affected area would also be in that area themselves and so likely off the air.

      I don’t know what to tell you about not owning any AM radio. I can’t remember the last time anyone actually listened to AM radio in my home but there are certainly devices there that can receive it. With Russia and China being dicks and maga foaming at the mouth to make the US like them you might want to go out and get yourself a receiver.

      1. “There you go again (about MAGA)”
        -paraphrasing Ronald Reagan

        You seem to have a biased, narrow, and negative view about what they truly stand for.

      2. Covering the country with only 1 to 3 stations seems great, but, then wouldn’t that mean it’s likely a country would only keep a handful of transmitters (or keep them colocated). That’s a problem for any scenario where an intelligent enemy is targeting communication since they only have to destroy a few to wipe out coverage.

        Basically, for your argument, we’d need to keep hundreds of them spread across the country even though that’s way more than is needed to provide a service. I expect this would result in them needing government subsidy as radio is likely to continue to decline (there are kids who have never listened to AM or FM radio).

    4. Remember the solar cycles matter, but also the thing about AM broadcast is that it’s in a frequency band that can roll over distances properly unlike FM that fuzzes out a lot. And our current FM broadcasts use way more power and bandwidth than is ideal for a voice emergency broadcast. If you used that much power on AM you’d cover multiple states with your broadcast. The reason it’s not amazing normally is that stations instead operate at lower power to try and not interfere with each other cross-country. You can make AM-like signals work a bit better if you instead do SSB, but it’s easier to tune into an AM signal, and for it to sound right, even if it takes a little more power. FM can be alright if it’s narrowband enough to fit in the same space but it’s not as efficient, and of course harder to receive though we’ll of course eventually build single-chip receivers for whatever. NOAA weather radio is a good comparison; it’s VHF and a lower band would make it go too far but be better for national emergencies maybe. Though coordinating lots of regular FM can work for those, sometimes, but it won’t be standardized the same way… idk. I kind of lost steam at the end there.

  3. also about the tool situation. i used to work in a pawn shop and tools were the go to item for druggies looking to feed their habbits. they would go lift some tools from a construction site and some disheveled guy without any teeth would come and try to hock it. and at the end of the month an officer would come buy with a stack of pawn tickets and most would be tools, which would then be hauled over to the evidence locker. most of it would get sold on ebay otherwise. seems they have upped their game since then.

      1. yea last time i bought a power drill, i had to find a guy and say i want that one? they then walked it up to the register for me. funny thing is this is a very small town on an island in se alaska, with very little crime (the police blotter fits in a couple paragraphs: mostly of a dog-at-large and deer-struck-by-car-meat-was-salvaged and the-ever-horrific-illegal-fishing nature). its not like were one of those big cities that let petty criminals go so they can form smash and grab gangs repeatedly.

        1. It’s peculiar how all over the western world theft is through the roof.
          And now I’m only talking about the native population and ignoring any foreign import criminality.
          It’s a shift in morals in the western world where stealing from shops is ‘normal’.
          Meanwhile more and more shops go bankrupt and you are more and more forced to order online, which in turn becomes more and more of a hassle since delivery companies seem to get worse and worse.

          Unless I’m mistaken.

          1. IIRC, the attempt to electrify remote villages in the country of India (fermenting animal waste to run an ICE generator)
            failed due to theft. So, not a “western” problem.

        2. Home Depot associate here, and trust me, we’re as annoyed by this crap as you guys. “If It’s Locked Up, Walk It Up” applies to ANYTHING that’s in a cage, regardless of price point (even though only things above a certain MSRP “justify” being locked up, even the $10 roll of weed trimmer line next to the $300 trimmer, has to itself be walked up just for being merchandised in the same cage… even though there’s another facing of that exact same trimmer line sku in an uncaged bay ten feet away, that SPECIFIC roll has to be walked up because of where it was). Heck, the other day I had to walk up a *two-foot length of $0.80/ft wire* simply because “cut ticket” items universally count as Locked Up.

          …At least we’re not Canadian Wal-Mart having to lock up freakin’ ICE CREAM.

  4. There is no reason why EVs should transmit noise on random frequencies. The Toyota hybrid of my parents does not cause any interference to its own AM radio, which performs completely satisfactory.
    It’s completely possible to make sure the car’s electronics don’t essentially form a pirate station that produces just noise.
    Maybe today the medium wave band seems obsolete and useless to some, but who knows when we decide ‘Oh, a band that can cover mountainous regions with only one transmitter ‘ comes in handy. You don’t have to transmit shitty boomer music or the fire and brimstone preachings of a cult church, you can also transmit many other things. Modern digital modes are extremely bandwidth efficient and with low power you can have tremendous range, meaning you can reduce power consumption by a lot – see amateur communications.
    Once you lose a band that’s still somewhat free for interference, it’s lost forever since cleaning up the spectrum is much harder than preventing it from being polluted in the first place (which is already a challenge with grey import electronics).

  5. Ryobi is made by the same company as Ridgid and Milwaukee. Also Ridgid has useful tools othee brands don’t get, like electric caulking guns and pesticide sprayers for example. EU has mandated interchangeable power tool batteries, so I have no Idea how the tool companies will segregate now.

    That said there are several levels of Ryobi, from ‘homeowners first hobby tools’, to ‘last years Ridgid/Milwaukee’.

    Makes no sense to complain about Ryobi color, high vis is a useful feature. But yes, wait for the turkey day sale and get a brushless Ridgid set is a better deal.

  6. If the point of retaining AM is emergency use… Just make sure the car has an accessory mode where the radio can be turned on without all the interference generating stuff.

    Ok, so that means in an actual emergency one would have to stop periodically to listen for updates. Since when where emergency solutions typically idea solutions though? The hope is you never have to use it.

    1. For emergency use you need a bidirectional link, which broadcasting isn’t. You won’t get any help if rescuers don’t know where you are. During wartime long-range transmitters can not be used for emergency broadcasts because that would give too much information to the enemy. Also in case of a natural disaster it wouldn’t be wise to use such a transmitter, it could induce panic in unaffected areas. In a nutshell: radio broadcasting is mostly useless in emergency situations, it will do more harm than good.

  7. Let me provide another side of Mr. Anders. He was hired by General Dynamics back in 1992. He proceeded to sell off various divisions (Convair, Electronics, Space Systems) for corporate profit. I was one of the 14,000 people who was laid off then, took over 6 months to find another job since so many others were also looking at the same time.
    So, while some may think “Nice picture, must have been a nice guy.”, I see him as “Nice picture, but a corporate raider who put me directly out of a job along w. 14,000 others.” Money before people. Never did get another job as a rocket scientist…

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